By, Vanessa Handy
Do you know whether your child’s school is spraying toxic pesticides on school grounds? If so, do you know what they are spraying, how much and when they apply these products? If you can answer yes to these questions then you are in the minority of educated parents. Most parents are in the dark about what is occurring on our public school campuses and I think this is simply because a common sense person would ask, “Why would they apply Roundup (glyphosate) and Speed Zone (2,4-D), around young children?” And, unless your school is posting signs before and after application, there is absolutely no way for you to know what your children are exposed to 180 days a year.
I am one of those parents who had no idea until a year ago. This is when my journey began of awareness about the nasty truth behind toxic pesticides and herbicides, where studies are linking them to cancer, ADHD and asthma, to name a few.
I am a 41 year-old-mom of two elementary school children in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (N-MUSD). I started noticing posted signs about Roundup application on my children’s schools and asked the very question, “Why?”
My adventure began when the Superintendent sent out a district-wide email inviting parents to a roundtable meeting. Topic: “Address parents concerns about the application of Roundup.” I decided to go to the meeting, expecting a full house. I was very surprised to only see three other parents at the meeting. The Superintendent and the Director of Facilities were there to address the questions.
By the end of the meeting, I had committed myself to working with the Director of Facilities with the idea of offering alternative solutions to the application of Roundup. However, I was in for more than I bargained for when I asked the Director for information about what, when and how much of the toxic pesticides were applied on our campuses. I took all the information and started on my adventure. The more I researched the products they were using, the more I realized I had to do something…this had to STOP.
Four months of research resulted in a thirteen-page report. I submitted it to the district with an idealistic attitude that we were going to be a progressive district and leaders of change. Well, idealistic being the key word.
The current California law about the application of toxic pesticides in schools is extremely lenient. It wasn’t until The Healthy Schools Act of 2000, that schools were required to post a sign 72 hours after application. For a parent to be notified of an upcoming application, they must sign up through the district’s notification database at the beginning of every year. You know that big packet you get at the beginning of every school year? There is supposed to be a form explaining where you can sign up for notifications of upcoming toxic pesticide application. The caveat being even though you are notified of the upcoming poisoning of your children, keeping them out of school is your only option…hmmmm? Additionally, the state of California only recommends that school districts adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, it is not mandatory. Just because a school district adopts the California recommended IPM program, implementation of the IPM protocol is another story.
I had to face the reality that change within my district will not happen overnight and to expect a large school district to change their protocol was wishful thinking. So, after meeting with our principal and the PTA unit president, we decided to approach the district with the idea to stop using Roundup on my daughter’s campus, Davis Magnet School, and use it as a “test campus.” They agreed, and January 2014 was the last application of Roundup on the Davis campus, the largest elementary campus in the district. Since this time, the maintenance crew is weed whacking and have only had to add one man hour a week. While there are several weeds in our un-mulched planter beds (mulching is an IPM approach), no other concerns have been expressed by the district.
Because of our success at Davis, with the support of the principal at my son’s campus, Newport Elementary, I approached the school district once again to stop the application of Roundup. Seeing as only one additional man-hour per week was needed at the largest elementary school campus, I thought it would be an easy sell for Newport Elementary, the smallest campus in the district. After a couple of weeks of emails getting the run around about “protocol,” I was annoying enough to get a meeting with the Director of Facilities. That morning is when everything changed…behold the Smoking Gun!
Two hours before my meeting, a colleague told me of a school district in Southern California that has eliminated conventional toxic pesticides, Las Virgenes Unified School District (LVUSD). I immediately called LVUSD and voila, a public school district with an invested team to eliminate toxic chemicals from ALL their campuses! I knew it would be much more difficult for N-MUSD to ignore me if another school district had an existing model to follow. It worked! Not only did the district agree to stop applying Roundup on Newport Elementary campus, they agreed to start a conversation to create an IPM committee…hopefully with me on it.
With the knowledge that N-MUSD is applying Roundup on the other elementary schools, and Roundup and 2,4-D on high school sports field, I will continue to push the district to form an IPM committee with me as a member. This is the solution to protect our children from exposure to these toxic pesticides every six to ten weeks.
Together with a mom from the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD), we are in the process of repeating this process. IUSD agreed to use one of their elementary school campuses as a “test campus.” Hopefully with the success of IPM programs at LVSD and N-MUSD, IUSD will follow suit. From there, I hope for a snowball effect forcing the passing of legislation mandating that ALL public school districts adopt, implement and enforce an IPM program.
All in all this is a fight I never saw coming into my life. As more and more scientific studies surface about the long-term health risks linked from exposure to these toxic pesticides, it motivates me to push forward and educate parents and our community.
We don’t allow smoking on our children’s campuses, so why are these toxic pesticides that “protect children from weeds” allowed to be applied directly on the surface where they play, eat and relax? It makes no sense, and let the school districts of California know, we are not stopping and we will not rest until our children are protected from poison that is simply used to kill a weed.
“The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery-not over nature but of ourselves.” – Rachel Carson
Scientific Studies on Toxic Pesticides:
Vanessa Handy is an Orange County native and lives in Costa Mesa, CA. Her primary job is being a mom to an eleven year old daughter and nine year old son. Since 2012, Vanessa has been advocating community involvement and sustainability in K-12 education, including being part of a team expanding a K-6 public school into a curriculum-based educational nature center. She is leading a charge to eradicate toxic pesticides from public schools and parks, and educate our children and community of the truth behind conventional agriculture and the health implications of our current food supply. Vanessa has a Bachelor of Science in Business from California State University, Long Beach, a Permaculture Design Certificate from The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano and is the PTA Legislative Chair at her children’s schools. Her vision is to create social change towards a healthier future for our children and planet by converting all public school campuses into experiential nature centers, bridging the gap between nature and science.